As Tories fail to meet rural broadband promises, nationalisation looks more and more necessary

Many rural people will continue to suffer with slow and expensive broadband.

When Labour announced its 2019 manifesto pledge to give everyone free broadband, the Conservatives put out a press release calling it a “fantasy” which “they wouldn’t have been able to deliver”?

We’ll never know whether Labour would have delivered or not but it’s become clear that the Conservatives will fail to meet their own, much less ambitious, broadband promises.

In its brief 2019 manifesto, the party said: “We intend to bring full fibre and gigabit capable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025…with £5 billion in funding already promised.”

According to a recent cross-party parliamentary report though, “the pledge to deliver nationwide gigabit connectivity by 2025 has proven to be unachievable”. The government’s 2025 target has been revised from 100% to 85% and its National Infrastructure Strategy does not say if or when it plans to get to 100%.

The report says that Oliver Dowden’s digital department have not received enough money from Rishi Sunak’s Treasury and the department’s civil servants are waiting for “ministerial approval” to get the roll-out plan confirmed.

It adds that it is concerned that those with the worst internet, who were supposed to be at the front of the queue, will be pushed to the back so the government can pick the low-hanging fruit and improve its statistics. So many rural people still won’t have ‘superfast’ broadband even when most of the country has the much better ‘gigabit’ broadband.

For those in the countryside, broadband won’t just be slow but expensive too. If the big suppliers aren’t interested in hard-to-reach areas, then there’s a risk of monopolies ripping consumers off. This would not have been a problem with Labour’s free nationalised broadband.

The pandemic has highlighted just what a necessity decent broadband is. Like all necessities – healthcare, education, water, rail transport – its too important to be left to private companies whose interests don’t align with the public’s.

Joe Lo is a co-editor of Left Foot Forward

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